Uefa Champions League: Jurgen Klopp has transformed Liverpool 'from doubters to believers'
Likes of Jordan Henderson, Virgil van Dijk and Xherdan Shaqiri credit belief and 'never give up' attitude for victory over Barcelona
Go back three-and-a-half years, before arguably the greatest Anfield European night of all, before the biggest turnaround in Uefa Champions League semi-final history, before a comeback that drew comparisons with Istanbul, and Jurgen Klopp marked his unveiling as Liverpool manager to produce what remains the defining quote of his regime.
“We have to change from doubters to believers,” he said.
Rewind a week, to a 3-0 defeat at Camp Nou that outsiders assumed ended Liverpool’s chances of reaching a second successive Champions League final. Liverpool believed.
“I said after the game in Barcelona that anything is possible,” Virgil van Dijk countered. “We believed from the start. We could still do it. Everyone was saying that we couldn’t but we showed it.”
“Honestly, it is just belief,” Xherdan Shaqiri echoed. Jordan Henderson elaborated: “The manager has ingrained that into us. No matter what happens, you keep fighting right until the end. We showed if you never give up, you can produce special things.”
Klopp, his captain said, had heeded his own advice when it came to his pre-match team talk. “He said we can enjoy the night and maybe tell the grandkids one day it was a special night,” Henderson added.
The injured Mohamed Salah’s T-shirt, reading “never give up”, served as Liverpool’s motto. In the process, they surprised even themselves. The dressing room, Shaqiri said, was: “Crazy. Everyone was shocked, like they couldn’t believe it.”
Belief made the unbelievable fact. Liverpool scored four more goals than Barcelona. They ran seven kilometres more than them. They even thought quicker than them when Trent Alexander-Arnold, the youngest man on the pitch, showed the precocious maturity to take the quick corner that Divock Origi steered in for the decider.
“I didn’t see it,” Van Dijk said. Nor did Klopp. Nor did Barcelona.
In a different sense, they probably did not see Gini Wijnaldum coming either. The scorer of three goals in 44 games struck twice in three minutes to become the architect of an upset. Now only Ian Rush has scored more goals in European Cup semi-finals for Liverpool than the unassuming Wijnaldum.
The normally amiable Dutchman said he was “angry” with Klopp for putting him on the bench but not since Vladimir Smicer in the 2005 Champions League final has a Liverpool substitute done so much on such a stage.
“You see how Gini reacted,” Henderson added. “It was outstanding. That is what you need from players.”
But Origi became the most symbolic figure, the willing runner turned destroyer of Barcelona’s dreams, the inspired understudy who overshadowed Lionel Messi. Salah and Roberto Firmino watched their deputies excel.
“Divock and Shaq were unbelievable coming in for Bobby and Mo,” Henderson said. “Two of the world’s best players were not missed.”
Shaqiri had not started since January, but he provided the inch-perfect cross for Wijnaldum’s second goal.
Depleted, supposedly down and out, Liverpool instead looked the best team in the world. Hassled, harried, flustered, busted, Barcelona seemed overwhelmed.
“It cannot be that in a minute we concede two goals,” said Luis Suarez, who had pledged not to celebrate at Anfield and had nothing to celebrate. “The fourth goal, we looked like youngsters.”
But they also looked an ageing team. They had the reputations, the silverware from success, but Liverpool had the legs, the attitude, the enterprising approach of a team relishing the sense of boundless possibility.
Klopp’s natural belief has been married with a faith in people. It explains a capacity to extract performances that few thought possible. Alexander-Arnold, the youngster who set up two goals, is often emblematic.
“If you look at [Joel] Matip today, unbelievable,” his central-defensive partner Van Dijk marvelled. Matip was Liverpool’s fourth-choice centre-back earlier in the season. He produced one wonderful interception when Messi was slaloming his way towards the Liverpool goal in mesmeric fashion.
Belief manifested itself in bravery. Liverpool’s willingness to press Barcelona seemed to backfire when they left Camp Nou with a 3-0 defeat. They raised the tempo further at Anfield.
“Not many teams make it that difficult for Barcelona,” Van Dijk said. “How we pressed them. How we created chances against them. Put them in difficult situations.
"You have to be brave. You have take a lot of risk defensively and we did it.”
Liverpool took their risks and reaped a huge reward. Henderson took painkillers at half time but remained the driving force. A much-maligned man stands to join the Liverpool legends Emlyn Hughes and Steven Gerrard plus Nottingham Forest’s double European Cup-winning captain John McGovern as the only men to lead an English club in two Champions League finals.
He lingered longest on the pitch afterwards, savouring it, singing the anthem “Allez Allez Allez” with both arms raised towards the Main Stand. Where, a World Cup semi-finalist was asked, did it rank in his career?
“It has to be the top,” he replied. “It was an unbelievable night.”
Updated: May 10, 2019 04:38 AM